Jan Kaláb: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist

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Don’t be afraid of the investment you put into your work. It will all pay off one day. Sometimes it takes years, but if you hold on, everything you put in will come back.

As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jan Kaláb.

Jan Kaláb is one of Czechoslovakia’s most notable contemporary artists’ today. He has exhibited in high profile galleries around the world, including New York, Miami, London, Paris, Shanghai, and Rio de Janeiro, with his paintings, sculptures, and 3-D graffiti. Through geometrizing morphology, precise acrylic painting, and layered surfaces — Jan embarks on an analysis of space within a classic ideology, however, redirects the known into the unknown; into a new dimension.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in 1978 in Czechoslovakia at a time when there was deep communism in the country and it was ruled by Russia. We could not travel to the west. If your family was lucky, you could travel to Yugoslavia to the Mediterranean coast, but most people weren’t, so instead they built cottages outside of the city to escape, and spend most of their weekends away. Even today, the majority of people still have their cottages where they go to get away.

Back then, colored TV was available and popular in the west, however, for us we still only could get black and white in our country. Any information from abroad was something and we were eager to hear news. I remember a friend had brought back a thick product catalog from Quelle, a shopping mall in West Germany; we were flipping through it, and discovering all the things we couldn’t buy.

Also, every May 1st, there was a huge parade to celebrate the communist regime, army and our big brother, Russia. People didn’t like the regime, but never dared to talk bad about it in public. I’m so glad this regime fell apart at the time I was growing up. I have these memories, however, at the time I was becoming an adult I was not restricted like the generation of my parents.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always liked to draw since I was a child. People around me told me I had a talent for drawing, but the real passion for creation came when graffiti crossed my life. Graffiti came to Prague, my home town, after the Berlin wall fell with all the other attributes from the free capitalist world. I was 15 when I painted my first graffiti piece in 1993. From here, my life got direction. I studied art while in high school and went on to The Academy of Fine Arts of Prague graduating with a Master’s degree. In my free time, I spent painting concrete walls and train yards with my graffiti friends. The graffiti community is worldwide, so I traveled to different parts of the world to leave my mark. I was doing it until I felt I needed to overcome the stereotype of spraying my name over and over. I started to use different techniques and it also helped me to shift my artistic vision in a more mature way.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As an artist, it’s part of the DNA to doubt your work and what you’re doing. If not this would be abnormal and could be suspicious. It’s challenging to be creative all the time and come up with new ideas. I feel stuck at times, it’s part of the process, but as complicated as this can be, it actually pushes me ahead and I’m able to think in new ways and evolve. When I feel like I’m reaching the end of the road of a creative path and direction, a new door always opens and an evolution happens.

When I was doing graffiti, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else besides letters, nor was I sure where the next step of my work would be. But then, I did start another style of art, where I was doing abstract work and painting geometric shapes on canvases. From here, another change happened, and next I was doing more organic, warped, and free flowing paintings. Changes are never easy to do and it takes time to transition, but, without a doubt, it is the most rewarding.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working on a large lighted object for Signal: a light festival that will take place this fall in Praha (Prague). I’m really excited, because I’ll work with light and be using illusive color motion with my 3D shapes. It is something that challenges me in a new way and I have a feeling it will be an important reference for my future projects. Alongside this, I’m working on my solo show in Brussels, where we’ll show an installation that will cover half of the gallery with my relief paintings. It will be something a little different than usual, so I’m looking forward to it.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I don’t have a particular story about a movie star or pop idol. From my experience, the most interesting and famous people you know from the media truly are really interesting, special, and charming in real life.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

I observe all the nature and universe around me, but the inspiration comes from the inside.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I donate my artworks to certain charity auctions on a regular basis.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 . Don’t be afraid of the investment you put into your work. It will all pay off one day. Sometimes it takes years, but if you hold on, everything you put in will come back.

2 . Don’t underestimate your audience. The viewer can see everything in your work. It is not necessary to be afraid that it’s too sophisticated or too simple. Anybody can recognize the great from the good.

3 . Be true and original. Create what comes from your imagination, not what you see from someone else. It takes time to get there, but everyone can find their own unique style.

4 . Remember those who help you and don’t forget them. You can not get anywhere without the support from others.

5 . Have fun. If you do it with joy, others will enjoy looking at your pieces, because they will feel the joy you have put in it.

If you can inspire a movement that will bring goodness to many people, what would that be? You never know what your idea could trigger and become. 🙂

Think about animals as if they were human beings. Think twice before you eat meat, maybe you will find out it is not that necessary in your life.

We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.

I would love to meet Dr. Dre. because I grew up with his music; also, I admire where he got to over time and all of his hustle.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Type jankalab on IG.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Jan Kaláb: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.